“Cuthbert is giving me trouble, but I can cope,” cabled American-born British spy Virginia Hall to London headquarters as she fled from France to Spain in November 1942. “If Cuthbert is giving you trouble, have him eliminated,” came the reply. Not exactly helpful advice considering the “Cuthbert” in question turned out to be Virginia’s nicknamed wooden leg.
Virginia Hall was born in Maryland in 1906 and attended the exclusive Radcliffe and Barnard colleges. She continued her studies in Europe and then in 1931 found a position as a clerk at the American embassy in Poland. She intended to pursue a diplomatic career in the Foreign Service, but in 1932 she was injured in a hunting accident and her leg had to be amputated below the knee, effectively stopping her career progression.
In 1939, Virginia resigned from the State Department, and after working in the Ambulance Service in France, in 1941 she joined Britain’s Special Operations Executive, whose objective was to help local resistance movements against the Axis powers and engage in guerilla warfare. Virginia went undercover as a reporter named Marie Monin while secretly organizing French spy and resistance networks and helping prisoners of war and other fugitives escape.
After being forced to flee to Spain in 1942, Virginia joined America’s Office of Strategic Services and asked to be sent back to France. This time, disguised as a milkmaid, she reported on German activities, established safe houses, and trained guerilla fighters. She was so effective that the Gestapo declared, “The woman who limps is one of the most dangerous Allied agents in France.”
When the war ended, Virginia was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (the second-highest military honor in the Amy). After getting married in 1950, she joined the CIA in 1951 and worked there as an analyst until she retired 15 years later. Virginia died in 1982 at age 76.
The following is a 2006 interview with Virginia’s niece Lorna Catling about her aunt on NPR’s All Things Considered: